John 16 – Our Joy Shall Be Complete

Notes from a sermon preached on the 08.02.09pm

An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. “Happiness,” said the Englishman, “Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire.”
”You English have no romance,” said the Frenchman. “Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant.”
“You are both wrong,” said the Russian. “True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door and there stand the secret police, who say to you, ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,’ and you say, ‘Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.’” 

There’s a lot of gloom about at the moment.
The Economy is grim.
The weather is grim.
And to cap it all we’re doing Ecclesiastes in the morning!
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, we come to John 16 and the immanent arrest and execution of Jesus…

I remember my Bible College tutor teaching us to preach about the small words of the Bible, and that’s what I want to do today as in the midst of all this depression is a small word, joy.

At first you wouldn’t equate this passage with joy would you. To be honest, the theme that leaps out is not happiness but grief. As you read it, you feel grief that Jesus is going to die. Jesus talks of the grief of the disciples whilst the world rejoices, presumably at his death, and then he starts talking about the unavoidable grief of a woman in labour.

Jesus has a lot of gloom to share with them. He’s talked about the fact that he’s leaving them, that he’s going to be betrayed. Here he picks up what is going to happen to them, the mounting persecution, their being thrown out of the synagogue, even being martyred, with those doing the martyring believing they were glorifying God through it!

I find this really quite touching, if a bit sombre. In the midst of it all, just as he was on the cross itself, Jesus is more concerned about others than himself. Rather than being overwhelmed with his own grief, Jesus is more worried about his disciples. What will happen to them? He knows what it is like to lose a loved one – his tears when Lazarus died were not for show – and he is concerned that the disciples will soon face that same sense of loss.

Most of us have at some time or other have been through bereavement. What is it that you need the most just then? Most of us have been in the difficult position of knowing someone who is in mourning. What can you say? What can you do to help, to make things better? I think it would be fair to say that this is one of the most challenging parts of my job – actually, at the time there isn’t that much you can say.

Possibly the answer is that during such times, what is needed most is someone to sit with you, to be there with you. Not someone with all the answers, but someone who can listen and shows real concern.

Now, obviously Jesus won’t be able to be with the disciples when they mourn – it will be him they’ll be mourning over – but at this point in time, his care for them compels him to do what he can to reassure them that it will be okay, to let them know that he understands, that he is with them.

Of course this continues with us. The risen Jesus, having experienced every aspect of human life, knows what it is like to experience pain and loss, and as we face it today, he faces it with us, feeling it as we feel it, sitting with us. He knows, he understands.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’ Romans 12:15

A pastor was so annoyed with boys stealing apples from
his orchard that one day he put up a sign, which read:
‘Don’t steal. For the Lord sees it all.’
The next day some apples were stolen again.
The boys had jotted underneath the sign:
‘Maybe He did. But He did not betray us.’

The truth is though, that knowing someone stands with you in grief might help, but it doesn’t turn the grief into joy does it. But this is the promise that Jesus makes, that ‘their grief will turn to joy’ (20)

Have you ever experienced pain that seems pointless? Not ‘no pain, no gain’, but simply ‘pain, no gain’. That is the worst kind of pain. To the disciples, when Jesus died, they probably felt that. All around them the world rejoiced, celebrating what had just been done, whilst they were left with thoughts of what could have been. What was their pain going to achieve?

But it wasn’t pointless. It had a purpose, just as the pain of a woman in labour. Jesus was going to die for a reason – and he wanted them to know that. They would mourn, but after the night comes day, and after Christ’s death, resurrection. Rising from the grave, death could never touch him again, could never snatch him back. They would regain their joy, only this time it could not be stolen from them again, as Jesus would ever die again. ‘So it is with you: Now is the time of your grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy’ (22).

That’s what you need isn’t it, friends who don’t desert you no matter what happens. That is another mark of a true friend for those of you who were here last week. That’s a source of joy for us. Jesus is always with us, and will never leave us.

There is more to Jesus’ return that will bring them joy though. Now, not only will Jesus never be taken from them again, but also their prayers will have new power. Anything they asked for in his name would be given to them. ‘Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete’ (24). This is a real reversal of fortunes isn’t it? Going from getting nowhere, everything going against you, to getting everything you ask for.

I still wonder though, is that what this passage is really about at its heart? Is it really about the joy that is gained when we get what we want? This doesn’t seem the most Christian attitude does it!

Let’s probe this joy a bit further. Is that really the source of their joy?

{22} ‘…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. {23} In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. {24} Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’

Sandwiched between verse 22 talking about joy in being reunited with Jesus and verse 24, joy from answered prayer is verse 23 – ‘In that day you will no longer ask me anything.

In the NIV this reads as if the disciples will no longer need to ask Jesus for anything as now they can ask the Father directly in his name. This is misleading. It is actually saying that the disciples will no longer ask Jesus any questions. There will be no need. Seeing the risen Jesus, they will know that all he said about himself was true. Seeing the risen Jesus, they will know that he is God. Seeing the risen Jesus, they will know that he will look after them – a fact that is supported by their receiving in prayer all that they ask for in his name. This is why they will be joyful, because they will have grown in faith.

As Alison wonderfully shared with us this morning, this world will at times be depressing, gut wrenching, painful, and if that was all there was, there would be no joy. But it isn’t.

I believe that our God is a God of humour. God created the belly laugh. God created the pun. God created the kind of laughter that keeps on going until it hurts! Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen an Osterich run – now there’s a bizarre sight! Or what about the duck-billed-platypus. Surely that’s a joke! You’d have to have a sense of humour to create such a thing! He turned water into wine, gave the ancient Sarah a child – she saw the funny side and laughed – gave Jonah a ride in a whale of all things! The top joke of all of course has to be the one Jesus pulled when on Easter Sunday he leapt out and shouted ‘April Fool’s’!

There’s nothing worse is there than being surrounded by people laughing and not quite getting the joke- don’t you hate it! I pray that we’ll get this last joke. It’s only when we realise that this is not all that there is, and that no matter what happens in the here and that an eternal party awaits us – is that not what Jesus promises when he says I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it with you in my Father’s Kingdom. This wonderful news can sustain us.

Its an occupational hazard in my line of work that you get to know a lot of funeral directors. Do you know what, I’ve realised that the best ones are the ones with a sense of humour. They can have a wicked sense of humour! It’s a survival mechanism. When life is difficult, being able to laugh at it gives you power over it. Christ’s great joke over death and sin, gives us the power to laugh at these two former enemies of ours, and gives us power over them. With heavenly laughter in our souls we can overcome all that this world throws at us.

There is one more thing. At the heart of our passage is relationship. We have Jesus caring for the hurting disciples like a parent a crying child. We have the image of a mother in the pains of labour, relieved by the arrival of her new child, and we have throughout the intimate relationship of the Father and his Son – for example in verse 32: ‘You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

As he prepares to leave them, Jesus is seeking to encourage the disciples to persevere through the coming grief, strengthening them with the knowledge that they are about to become part of his family – that is the reward of faith.

We have already said that when they see the risen Jesus, they will be reassured that he is who he said he is. But that’s not all. When they see the risen Jesus, they’ll know the extent of the Father’s love for him – as it’s the Father who will raise him. Just as the crucifixion is the evidence of God’s love for us, so the resurrection is the evidence of his love of Jesus.

Karl Barth, one of the most famous theologians of recent times said, ‘Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.’ Laughter is a great way to cross barriers, to bring people together. To share a joke, you need two people!

In verse 27, Jesus tells us that as we’ve loved him, so the Father loves us! But how much does he love us? Does he love us as his Son? Or is it just a ‘fond of us’ love, that really doesn’t measure up to much? This is where answered prayer comes in. God answers our prayers in Jesus’ name as he would if his Son asked him. When we ask and receive, our joy does not just come from the fact that we get what we ask for – that isn’t actually so important. Where our joy comes from is realising that this tell us that our Father loves us as much as he loves his Son.

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